Monday, August 31, 2009

The Weekly Strike-8/31-9/6

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike. Thanks for hanging in there during my hiatus. One more week before the end of the Congressional recess, and the beginning of crunch time.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President has returned to Martha's Vineyard to the White House to what is being billed as a "working vacation." So far, he has no public events scheduled, and he is set to leave for Camp David on Wednesday. The most valuable use of his time would be to engage in some serious soul searching. It's been a very difficult summer. The health care debate has become mired with town hall meetings, Congressional inaction, and Democratic infighting. Obama has overcome challenges and setbacks before. We know he has the intellectual capacity to do so. The key thing is whether he is continuing to heed advice solely from his "inside the beltway" advisers, or whether he is reading the commentary of those who really get it, like columnists Paul Krugman and E.J. Dionne. These people have come to conclusions that need to become ingrained in the President:

-Republicans have no interest in cooperating, and need to be cut out of the process entirely. They will do everything they can to make sure this effort fails. With maybe one or two exceptions, there is virtually no chance of getting any Republican votes for health reform, no matter what it looks like.

-Further concessions do not necessarily make the bill more likely to pass; rather they make the bill considerably worse and thus more politically dangerous.

-It's time to take some initiative. The time to let Congress work out the details while the President stands on the sideline have passed. It's time to show some real leadership.

-The selling point has to appeal to people emotionally. I was talking about this with The Big Picture this morning. There should be no more wonkishness, just endless repetition. The Big Picture drew up some "sum it up" talking points that I think are right on:

"We just really need to focus on saying that if you're a hardworking middle class person you're going to get good subsidies to make insurance affordable and insurance will actually mean real coverage, real security, real piece of mind, no more discrimination, rescission, medical bankruptcies. Second, for seniors we HAVE to do this to save their Medicare otherwise there will be rationing. Third, it's a moral outrage that 20,000 people die every year from being denied access to a doctor, and that (whatever the number) of bankruptcies happen. Obviously for all three of these you bring out some real people to make it real. And that's what we should be repeating over and over again."

-Finally, and most importantly, the mantra for Obama and the Democrats, in honor of Ted Kennedy, needs to be "PASS THE BILL." At the end of the day, all of these auxiliary issues are irrelevant. So are public opinion polls and fear of the next elected. Democrats were elected to deliver, and they must. No more excuses, no more compromise, just figure out a way to get 218 votes in the House, and 60 (or 51?) in the Senate.

Another issue on the horizon for the White House is the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. This is becoming perilous for the country and the President. Casualties have been increasing at a disturbing rate over the past couple of months, and there still isn't any measurable progress (part of the problem is that we don't have specific measures to gauge progress). General McCrystal, who is leading the effort on behalf of NATO and the U.S. is saying that the situation is dire and deteriorating. The Taliban, not surprisingly to anyone who knows anything about Afghanistan's history, are proving tough to defeat. McCrystal is expected to ask for additional troops in the next couple of weeks. I'm not ready to say that this is Obama's Vietnam yet, but he needs to develop a clear plan that is not open-ended. He needs to set benchmarks to measure progress, and he needs to define a path to victory. This issue has not gotten a lot of press over the summer due to the health care debate, but it is going to be a major issue in the coming months.

That's it for now, we'll be back tonight for the Daily Strike.

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